Category Archives: Technique

Thoughts on Point of View

Our most recent around-the-table discussion…

photo by Marcie Schwindt

photo by Marcie Schwindt

Elizabeth McCallister
I think point of view is one of the most difficult things that new writers can face. It seems like a simple enough task – are you writing in the first, second or third person.

It gets more complicated when you actually get down to doing it well. In a sense, you must inhabit not only the personalities of your characters but also the world that you have created. A narrator who describes someone or something seems the easiest route until you realize that you have written something from one of the characters’ POV.

Trying to write from more than one character’s POV can be one of the most difficult tasks. How do you clearly separate the two characters’ POV so that each rings clearly?

Which is the final most difficult task – creating a character who seems fully human.

Jockie Loomer-Kruger
I like first person especially ideal for memoir which is my preferred genre. I [also] like it for the poetry I write.

Second person – sounds like a lecture. Thou shalt not…

Third person – can add a different type of detail from first. Good for fiction with various characters.

Omniscient – All knowing and able to get into everyone’s thoughts – best for descriptive scenes, for commentary on a character.

Barbara Lefcourt
From 1st person, there are unlimited POV – age, sex, ethnicity, personality, stage of life. What first person POV do you feel comfortable writing from.
What kind of minds are you able to get [into] and imagine being?

A major reason I love to read novels is to be able to get into the body and minds of persons totally different from myself.

My own writing of course grows from my personal points of view that have changed with age and with living in totally different environments.

Kathy Robertson
[POV] should convey the author’s opinion without being obvious.
Metaphors are effective tools in conveying imagery.
The true meaning should be elusive, not fully comprehended until the end.
One image building on the other until the complete meaning is fully realized.

Becky Alexander
I like to use the antiquated POV known as the “omniscient storyteller,” the guy who knows all, sees all and this includes knowing (and telling) what the characters even think, let alone what they do, see, etc. Think of the writers of the Bible.

I like this form as it is time tested, has survived for centuries and is the easiest form (for me) in which to write.

Case in point: I hate second person POV. [Sounds like a lecture].

Wendy Visser
Narrative style a) where narrator stands outside the story b) where narrator is part of the poem or story

Humour – writer writes from humourous perspective
• form of entertainment
o should not be forced but natural.

3rd person perspective – work written in 3rd person allows easy access to the reader. Can identify more with the situation – empathy.

First person -[works] depending on subject matter.

Marcie Schwindt
When I think about POV, first, second, third, whatever, just seems like an obvious choice based on the character’s voice and how intimate the reader needs to be with him/her to “get” who they are.

What’s more interesting, I think, is choosing which character’s viewpoint to write from. Personally, I choose the weakest character to showcase because they always seem to pull the most interesting text from me. Strong characters are boring. Weak people have to “fake it”, still have to learn how to cope. They have the greatest potential character arc because they have less to lose from taking risks.

Life is too short to waste writing on boring characters. The next time you need to decide whose story to tell, pick the less obvious choice: the character who might otherwise have been the sidekick. Give the non-speaking stock character a voice. Their story might surprise you.

Rob Quehl
1. In my opinion, if an author switches from one character’s point of view to another’s, then the style of writing should change to reflect this, so much so, that after a few chapters, the reader should be able to flip open the book at random and know whose point of view is being shown at that point.

2. I like the second-person point of view. If done well, it can pull the reader in and get them involved in the story, as it makes it sound like YOU, the reader, are the main character. A wonderful example of second-person for children is the “Choose Your Own Adventure” series of books. (See example below.) I have also read second-person for adults, and found it unique and engaging.

Your Very Own Robot (Choose Your Own Adventure #1) synopsis:

Your parents are scientists and inventors. One day, they throw some pieces of a robot into the trash. If you can figure out how to put the pieces together, you’ll have a robot of your very own! But do you know enough to control it? Are you ready for the adventures your very own robot will bring?

Lee Anne Johnston
I find first person narration comes naturally to me and seems to flow. I feel too artificial using third person, although this is just me. First person has obvious limitations, i.e. your narrator can not get into the minds and hearts of others, whereas an omniscient 3rd person narrator can easily float from and into many characters.

Making Dialogue Sound Real

by Rob Quehl

photo by Stuart Miles | freedigitalphotos.net

photo by Stuart Miles | freedigitalphotos.net

Writing dialogue is tough. Like many, when I began writing, I thought that dialogue was simply prose with quotation marks around it. At a workshop last year, I had the pleasure of meeting award-winning Canadian playwright Gary Kirkham. Talented, funny, and an expert in dialogue; here are four insights he spoke to us about:

  1. Dialogue is completely different from prose. Completely different. Traditional grammar and punctuation rules go out the window. The principles of writing great prose simply do not apply. Creating dialogue is like “converting” the sounds of the human voice into words on paper.
  2. Similarly, it needs to sound real. Only a “professor” type character speaking to his class would speak in a crisp and clean style, with perfect grammar and succinctness. Gary emphasized that real speech can be many things, including: odd, clipped, slangy, repetitive, interrupted, fragmented, stuttering, cryptic, bland, quirky, four-lettered, etc.
  3. Pay close attention to the emotions of the character. Like real people, their speech patterns, vocabulary, and word choices will change depending on whether they are happy, sad, angry, excited, gossipy, giddy, depressed, or drunk. Gary advised us to speak the dialogue out loud and to act it out like an actor would.
  4. Sound. We did a fun exercise to practice this: the raw sound patterns that can be discerned regardless of the words used. The exercise was to produce an emotional dialogue between two people using only nonsense words. Example:“Blah blah blah.”
    “Blah? Blah blah blat!”
    “Twee.”
    “Twee…twee? Skrak twee. Shish fu frak twee!”

    The point of the above example is that if someone is in a gentle, peaceful mood, you hear soft and gentle sounds, flowing, and pleasant to the ear. But when a character gets angry, their speech changes because angry words tend to have harsh sounds, hissing and spitting sounds like: s, sh, t, k, d, f, ck, etc.

    So give it a try on your dialogue. Say it out loud and act it out to see how it sounds.


Rob Quehl lives in Kitchener and is currently working on two novels

Is the Pen Mightier?

by Rob Quehl 

A few months ago, I met with some writers at a coffee shop. Most were participating in the National Novel Writing Month competition. Every one of them had their laptop in front of them. They type, type, typed away, before, during, and after the meeting, while my dinosaurian hand grasped a ballpoint.

Keeping notes in the 21st CenturyI own a laptop, and had tried to make the switch several times, hoping to save time by inputting directly into my computer. But for some reason, I always went back to my old way: writing the base story with pen on paper, then typing it in later. I didn’t know why it worked better; I just thought it was because I was a terrible typist. But recently, I found the difference aptly described in Susan Bell’s book: The Artful Edit.

Susan discusses Judith Freeman’s experiment in handwriting her novel Red Water. In the past, typing directly into her computer had made the writing process choppy.

Judith Freeman:

“When writing longhand, the brain and the hand are connected. Once you let an idea unfold, you keep unfolding it. Ink flows, ideas flow with it. When writing longhand, I am not tempted to constantly go back, scroll up, stop and reread. When you type, especially into a computer, you don’t give your imagination the chance to really follow things through.”

Susan Bell expands on the idea:

“Clean and professional looking, the typed page can induce the illusion that the sentences on it are finished and ready to be inspected. It is impossible to make that mistake with a hand scrawled note.”

In the same book, Tracy Kidder discusses this concept with respect to editing:

“One of my gripes about the computer is that it encourages a kind of editing that I don’t think is very useful. That is, you can move stuff around endlessly. I did a little editing for the late lamented New England Monthly. One writer was writing a piece that we really needed and all he kept doing was taking the same bankrupt paragraphs and moving them around.”

Amen! Exactly the same thing happens to me when I attempt to edit “tough spots” in my book. I stare at the screen, cut and paste, move it back again, switch words, but get nowhere until my eyes go buggy staring at letters on the screen. At this point, I’ve learned to turn off the computer, calm down, take a break, then go sit somewhere in a nice coffee shop, with nothing in front of me except a pen and a blank piece of paper. It’s only then that I can start from scratch and write something fresh that can solve the problem I’ve been stuck on. It takes time, but it always works.

So my intention is not to argue that you should come back and join me in the Stone Age, but only to consider handwriting as another option, especially if you reach a tough spot in your work that has you stumped.

Good luck.


Rob Quehl lives in Kitchener and is currently working on two novels

EASY ELIXIR

by April Bulmer

Are you a poet suffering from writer’s block malaise? Here’s a quick remedy: take five minutes and write down every word that comes to mind. Then link the ideas and images to create meaning. The result can be a quirky and unique piece.

Here’s a poem I wrote using this method:

Eartha: Indian Bands

My spirits come
in good makeup
and little white gloves
for it is the winter
of mine husband.
I wear bust lace,
but outside
the Natives gather
in buck pants.
They have brought
an offering of blood.

It is true I love him
and he has grown
his hair long
through the seasons.
It is the red of autumn
and of snake.

I have smoked
my gown in fire.
My veil I have hung
from a tree.
It bears the breath
of step dance
and Langdon Lake.

I touch his hand
we eat a pretty cake.

All night, the Indians
cry like virgins,
their voices torn like lace.

Previously published in Tower Poetry Winter Edition 2008-2009


April Bulmer has published six books of poetry. The poem above is an excerpt from her new manuscript Women of the Cloth. Her work has appeared in many national and international journals including the Malahat Review, PRISM international, Arc, Harvard University’s Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion and the Globe and Mail. She recently placed second in the Trinity College Alumni Fiction Contest and was a judge for the Hamilton Literary Awards.

Books for Writers

by Rob Quehl

I would like to introduce a book that has helped me considerably. It is called the The First Five Pages: A Writer’s Guide To Staying Out of the Rejection Pile by Noah Lukeman, a literary agent and former editor. I believe the book will be helpful to advanced writers as well as beginners. It is focused on fiction novels, but it may be helpful to all writers, including poets.

After much searching at the library, I became frustrated with the many books promising “the perfect plot” or lists of “ideal characters”, and other dubious formulas for success. Mr. Lukeman’s book is different. Surprisingly, the author does not claim to offer anything that will produce great writing. Instead, the focus of his book is learning how to identify and avoid bad writing. Specifically, the type of writing mistakes that an agent or editor will use to eliminate your manuscript.

The book is broken down into three parts:

  • Part I introduces preliminary problems involving presentation, adjectives and adverbs, sound, comparisons, and style.
  • Part II encompasses problems related to dialogue – placement, commonplace, informative, melodramatic, and hard to follow.
  • Part III discusses the bigger picture – showing versus telling, viewpoint & narration, characterization, hooks, subtlety, tone, focus, setting, and pacing & progression.

The author provides examples and explanations for each problem, as well as potential solutions. He also sprinkles in many enjoyable quotes from great authors.

This book helped me identify several problem areas in my writing. I went back and made changes, and I was glad I did. It also gave me encouragement that I was doing other things well.

Of all the books I have looked at, this is the only one I would recommend, as well as his follow-up book: The Plot Thickens.

I hope you find it helpful.


Rob Quehl lives in Kitchener and is currently working on two novels.

Divinely Inspired

by April Bulmer

Image: scottchan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Before moving to Cambridge, I did graduate work in religious studies at the University of Windsor.  There I studied a pantheon of gods, some of whom are associated with poetry and writing.  Several cultures identify such gods and goddesses and invoke them when they are involved with creative work.  Here I identify some of those deities (as well as a couple of other divine sources), their mythological backgrounds, and their unique interests.

Hermes.   A major player in the pantheon of Greek gods, Hermes is known as a trickster, messenger of the great Zeus, and the guide of the dead into the underworld.  He is identified as the inventor of the Greek written alphabet and thus is the god of writing, as well as speech and dreams.

Apollo. As the Greek god of the sun, Apollo was also a god of music and often depicted with a lyre.  He was also, at times, seen as the protector of poetry, reciting and dance—anything that was associated with the public playing of the lyre.  It is believed that his music was inspirational in developing written work, inspiring the artist to produce thought into a document.

Muses. The Greek muses inspired and protected dance, poetry, writing and dramatic stories.  Today, they are still associated with modern theatre, music, science and research.  The muses are not true gods, but they are the focus of many Greek minds and literary inspiration.  The muse who protects poetry is Kalliope.

Odin. Chief god of Norse mythology, Odin is lord of wisdom, poetry, war, death and magic and is provider of the runic letters.  He is the Norse equivalent of Woden who was honoured in pre-Christian Europe and England.  He is considered sire of many other gods and co-creator of the cosmos and of humans.  It is thought that Odin/Woden may have originated in the Wild Hunt, the traditional mythology of Germanic peoples that tells of thunder storms being developed by the loud gallop of spirits of warriors.  In another story, Odin becomes wise by hanging upside down in the World Tree for nine nights without food or drink, dying from a self-inflicted wound with a spear. There he discovered magic runes and learned nine inspired songs and returned to life with wisdom which is associated with letters.

Sarasvati. In the Rg Veda, one of the early sacred Hindu texts, Sarasvati was the personification of a sacred river that bore her name.  Aryans performed religious rituals on its banks.  As the river-goddess, Sarsvati was associated with power, purity and fertility.  She is recognized as the inventor of the Sanskrit language and as the goddess of wisdom and learning, speech and eloquence.  She is also patron of all arts and sciences.

Devi Sarswati. Hindus also honour Devi Sarswati who is the goddess of knowledge, books, literature, and alphabets.  Each year they celebrate a day in her name.  They pay her respect by not reading any book or engaging in writing.  They believe the goddess, herself, resides in books.  They never touch books or writing material with their feet because they are considered a mean part of the body.  If, by chance, such materials are touched by feet, they hold them to their forehead, as it is considered an honourable place where knowledge resides.

Thoth. Thoth was a moon god in early Egyptian mythology.  He was associated with the sacred bird called the ibis, perhaps because its bill resembled a crescent moon.  As the moon became more significant in the Egyptian religious rituals and its calendar, Thoth became associated with calculation, magic, the organization of time, and writing.  He was the inventor of hieroglyphics and became known as the “Lord of the Holy Words.”  He was also scribe of the gods.  He kept accounts and records of them and the divine archives.  He also recorded the histories of the kings of Egypt.  He wrote their names on the leaves of a sacred tree.

Gabriel.  The Judeo-Christian archangel, Gabriel, is the angel of creative writing and literature.  She aids the writer in beginning the writing process and helps keep thoughts clear while writing.  If one asks for guidance, it is said she works though a person to write divinely-guided thoughts.  She inspires and fuels ambition.  She even helps to get the work published.  If you wish to summon an angel, burn a pink candle.  It is believed that Gabriel and other angels respond to the colour pink.

Sources:  Internet: “Gods of Writing,” by WolfWikis.  “Is there a god or goddess of literature, books, reading, writing, authors, etc.?” Yahoo.

In 2008, Serengeti Press published my book, The Goddess Psalms.  Below is one of the poems from that book that was inspired by my relationship with a divine goddess. 

Psalm 44

The rains came and
the well water
was clean and sweet
for drink,
a covenant of dirt and heaven.
 
I bury ashes
among old roots
where witches gather
to raise the moon:
arms lifted toward her veil:
crown and torn tulle.
 
And I bury my prayers
in the cradle of a tree.
Bear water and shadows:
a new mythology.


April Bulmer has published six books and four chapbooks of poetry.  She holds Master’s degrees in creative writing, religious studies and theological studies.  She has been published nationally and internationally in many prestigious journals including Harvard University’s Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion.  In 1998, her second book, The Weight of Wings was nominated for the Pat Lowther Memorial Award for the best book of poetry by a Canadian woman.  She is long-time member of the Cambridge Writers Collective.  She also belongs to Voices Israel, the International Women’s Writing Guild and the League of Canadian Poets.

Breaking Through That Dreaded BLOCK

Image: Idea go / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Since no one person has all the answers, we’ve starting gathering around-the-table tips from members on subjects that affect us all. What follows is some of what came out of our discussion on writer’s block.

Lee Anne Johnston:
I journal every day. In my formal writing, I write in the first person so the characters seem to develop themselves and tell their own story. I also am a very slow writer. I write historical mysteries and I just love learning the gritty details about the past that will make my story come to life.

Barb Day:
There you are writing away, the words flowing from you, gushing out, you can’t get your thoughts down on paper fast enough. Your mind is working faster than your pen. And then it happens – you hit a brick wall, your mind closes (more like slams shut.) Your pen comes to a screeching halt. For me- it’s always two reasons – I’m tired of sitting in the same spot for hours or I’m not knowledgeable about the topic I’m writing about. I get up, get a coffee, take a break and come back refreshed and ready to do research. The joys of Google and from the research, ideas pop into my head like crazy just from reading what someone else has written even though it’s dry, boring facts. And then I’m back at it – full speed ahead, refreshed and armed with new knowledge.

Barbara Lefcourt:
The key for me when I want very much to write but cannot get thoughts to flow IS TO NOT SIT AT MY DESK. Rather, I turn my attention to some of the mindless household chores that always get delayed being done: dusting, vacuuming, cleaning floors, hand laundry, etc. etc. etc. It also sometimes help to put favourite instrumental music ( no vocals) on my stereo. That often sets the stage for the magical flow of poetic expression. And it’s good to have paper and pencil handy around the house so I can easily pause to jot down ideas, expressions, particular words that must be captured before they fly from my head.

Marcie Schwindt:

  • I try to write something everyday to keep the muse happy and coming back.
  • I read from something published every day. There’s always something to be learned from someone else’s successes.
  • I critique at least one unpublished work every week. Figuring out on my own what does and doesn’t work for me, and why, is more helpful to me than anything I’ve learned second-hand (through a course, instructional book, etc.).
  • I plot out my stories, then don’t write them sequentially. If I’m blocked on something, I write around it. Once I have the thing surrounded, it usually surrenders.
  • I stop writing mid-sentence or mid-scene. That way I don’t really have to face a blank page the next day. I already know how that sentence or scene should end.

Diane Attwell Palfrey:

  • I get a lot of inspiration from news stories or articles I read via different search engines. I like to research a topic and then write about it. So when the idea train has left the tracks – I head for the PC. I like to write about people and relationships, the human condition etc. News is full of items that can be turned into poetry.
  • I also get ideas from Facebook. I’ll read my homepage and that will inspire me. Sometimes I can’t quite believe the kind of things that people blog on a public forum. But then I think – well – it’s giving me a subject to write about.
  • Sometimes I ply myself with chocolate and listen to music. It soothes and helps the ideas flow.
  • Most of my writing is done after midnight. That’s when the house is quiet, the phone has stopped ringing and there are no more e-mails to deal with.
  • I’m not above asking others for ideas. I’ll often ask someone to give me an idea. I’ll just say, “hey, I need to write a poem – do you have an idea for me – tell me a story and I’ll turn it into a poem for you”. My mother is a great source for that.

Have you ever suffered from Writer’s Block? How did you overcome it?